5 min read

8 Signs You Need to Talk to a Vet [Expert Advice]


By Aurus Sy

Published: 07/22/2022, edited: 08/10/2022

Reviewed by a licensed veterinary professional: Dr. Linda Simon, MVB MRCVS

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Our dogs and cats are part of the family, and we want to keep them as healthy and happy as possible. But unlike human family members, our feline and canine companions can’t tell us when they’re not feeling well. Moreover, they tend to hide their pain and illness. 

As pet parents, it’s our responsibility to be aware of the signs that our furchildren may need medical care. When it comes to your companion animal's health, there’s no room for guesswork. Wondering when you should worry about your pet? Here are 8 signs that you need to talk to a vet, provided by veterinary surgeon Dr. Linda Simon MVB MRCVS.

Very skinny cat sitting in a fence - 8 Signs You Need to Talk to a Vet [Expert Advice]

They have been losing weight

Some companion animals need to shed extra pounds, but unintentional and significant weight loss is a cause for concern. If your cat or dog has lost 10% of their body weight despite eating normally, then it’s time to talk to your veterinarian. Weight loss is a common symptom of chronic disease.  

There are a number of chronic conditions that can lead to unexplained weight loss, including but not limited to:

Weight loss caused by chronic disease can also be accompanied by other symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting, lethargy, hair loss, and depression. Treatment will depend on which disease is affecting the animal.

Bulldog drinking a bowl of water on the grass

They are drinking more water than usual

It’s normal for your four-legged friend to drink a lot of water after playing or exercising. But if they’re drinking more water than usual despite not being very active, it could mean that something’s wrong. 

Possible causes of excessive thirst include:

  • Kidney disease
  • Diabetes
  • Urinary tract infection (UTI)

Kidney disease occurs when the kidneys are no longer able to filter toxins out of the bloodstream. If the condition is acute, your companion animal may need to be hospitalized. For chronic kidney disease, a change in diet is usually part of the treatment plan. 

Diabetes mellitus, or “sugar diabetes,” is the most common form of diabetes seen in both dogs and cats. It typically affects older and obese animals, who will likely require insulin injections, a specific diet, and regular exercise.

A urinary tract infection often develops when bacteria invades the urinary tract, the most common culprit being Escherichia coli, the bacteria found in feces. This type of UTI can be cleared up with antibiotics.

Black dog panting heavily

They have bad breath

Bad breath, or halitosis, can be caused by simply eating smelly food. However, it can also indicate a serious underlying condition, especially if it is accompanied by other symptoms such as difficulty chewing, loss of appetite, and bleeding gums. Gastrointestinal disease, diabetes mellitus, and cancer can result in chronic halitosis.

The most common cause of bad breath, however, is periodontal disease, or gum disease, which occurs in 80% of companion animals over the age of 3. Fortunately, periodontal disease is completely preventable with proper oral hygiene. Brushing your furry pal’s teeth regularly with a dog or cat toothpaste will keep plaque and tartar from building up. If the disease has progressed to the more advanced stages, your companion animal may need a full dental cleaning, tooth extractions, and surgery.

Tired cat lying on the carpet

They seem to be more stiff or slow

Is your companion animal moving slowly and not as nimble as they used to be? It’s easy to chalk up a decrease in activity to age, but even older pets should not struggle with mobility. Any stiffness could indicate a joint disease such as arthritis, which can be quite painful. Arthritis is one of the most common causes of stiffness in dogs. In the feline world, arthritis affects more than 90% of cats over the age of 12.

Osteoarthritis, also known as degenerative joint disease, is one of the most common types of arthritis in dogs and cats. It occurs when the cartilage in the joints wears down, causing the bones to rub against each other. While there is no cure for arthritis, a healthy diet, moderate exercise, environmental changes, and NSAIDs can help your cat be more comfortable.

Tan dog sitting on up a chewed up red couch

They are struggling to cope in certain situations

Fear is a normal response to some situations, but excessive fear and anxiety is likely a behavior problem. The most common anxiety-related disorder in dogs is separation anxiety; it is estimated that 14% of canine companions struggle to cope when they are left home alone. Though it is more commonly seen in dogs, separation anxiety occurs in cats too. 

Separation anxiety can lead to a dog injuring themselves and damaging property as they try to escape. In cats, the symptoms tend to be more subtle, but that doesn’t make the issue any less serious. Companion animals with anxiety will benefit from seeing a vet, who may prescribe anti-anxiety medication and recommend behavior modification techniques, as well as rule out any physical issues that may be causing the behavioral changes. They may also refer you to a certified animal behaviorist, who is specially trained in animal behavior and animal learning.

Elderly gray-haired dog

Their personality has changed or they seem confused

Just like us, our companion animals’ personalities change over time. However, a sudden change in your furbaby’s behavior warrants a trip to the vet, especially if they’re in their golden years. Personality changes and disorientation are symptoms of dementia


, which is similar to Alzheimer's disease in humans. The brain undergoes physical and chemical changes that may result in memory loss, disrupted sleep cycles, and a lack of interest in things they once enjoyed. 

The exact cause of dementia in dogs or cats is not known, and there is no cure for this condition. A treatment plan for dementia ensures that the animal is as comfortable and cared for as possible and may include a nutrient-rich diet, environmental changes, and medication. Your vet may also recommend exercise, training, and active playtime to slow the degenerative process.

Gray cat licking their paw

They keep scratching or licking their paw

Itchy skin can be very uncomfortable for your pet. Unfortunately, determining the cause is often not easy, and many OTC remedies are not effective. Not only can constant scratching lead to secondary infections and inflammation, it can also cause your canine or feline companion great distress.

Itchy skin or paw licking can indicate several conditions, including:

Treating itchy skin in dogs or cats can be just as complex as finding out the cause. Treatment will depend on what exactly is causing your furbaby to constantly scratch or lick their paw—until then, your vet may prescribe anti-itching medication to provide temporary relief. Chronic itchy skin will likely require lifelong management.

Brown dog scooting their butt on the floor

They are scooting on their butt

If your companion animal is dragging their butt across the floor, they need to see a veterinarian. While it may look like a behavioral issue, scooting in cats and dogs actually suggests they are experiencing discomfort, itching, swelling, or pain. 

Your dog or cat could be scooting due to:

Impacted anal glands are uncomfortable and can become serious if not treated. Infections and abscesses can occur when the fluid in the anal sacs do not empty normally. In most cases, the vet will treat impacted anal glands by expressing them manually. 

Worms can make your pet’s butt itch and lead them to scoot in an attempt to relieve the discomfort. Common intestinal worms in dogs and cats are hookworms, whipworms, roundworms, and tapeworms. The medication your vet prescribes will depend on which type of worm your furry friend has.

Our pets can’t talk, but they’re communicating with us all the time—we just need to pay attention. Knowing the signs that your dog or cat needs to go to the vet is essential to helping them live a happy, healthy life.

Still not sure if you need to call the vet? Chat with a veterinary professional today to find out if your dog or cat requires a veterinary consultation.

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